Hurray! We’re all living longer!

The good news: life expectancy in the U.S. increased by 50% during the 20th century. The bad news: we’ll all need a good deal more money during retirement.

The average 65 year old man can expect to live to age 84. The average 65 year old woman: 87. When you think of couple living off their retirement income, there is a 50% chance that one spouse will make it to 95. That means that most people should have 30 years of retirement planned (assuming they retire at age 65–not necessarily a valid assumption).

This makes a focus on long term returns more important than ever. Specifically, the conventional view of retiring with a conservative portfolio of bonds is probably not the way to go. We’ll all need the growth and inflation protection of stocks to keep from running out of money.

It also means the most conservative period of investing is probably right before and after retirement. A large setback in your portfolio right before or after retirement may be very difficult to recover from.

That is why many advisers are recommending high stock portfolios in your early years, low stock allocations close to and right after retirement, and than increasing that stock allocation as you get older. 

We simply need the growth and inflation protection that only stocks can offer to build wealth early and then sustain us into old age. But it also means you may want to reduce that stock allocation right before and after retirement.

Longer lives are great. But, to make it great, we’re going to have to plan for longer lives.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

Hurray! We’re all living longer!

The big benefits of boosting your savings–even by small amounts!

Everyone knows they need to save more for retirement. But most don’t because they think they can’t afford it.

The reality is that even small boosts in savings can have large impacts over the fullness of time.

A Wall Street Journal article and a report by Fidelity Investments makes this point clear: even boosting your savings by 1% will have a meaningful impact on your retirement income.

It’s more fun to focus on getting higher returns, but the most potent force in anyone’s retirement plan is their own willingness to save.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

The big benefits of boosting your savings–even by small amounts!

Comparison shopping

When you go shopping for a house, TV, clothes, or car, you understand that you need to shop around.

Shopping allows you to better understand the nature of the product you might buy. What are the options? What is the price range? How is the product sold? How is it supported after purchase?

If you don’t do a good job of shopping around, you are very likely to pick an inferior product or pay too high a price. So, it pays to shop around.

The same can be said when it comes to looking for investing or financial advice: you need to do some comparison shopping. (In fact, I think that the expense and impact of good or bad financial advice far out-weighs the cost and benefit of a house, TV, clothes or car. But, then again, this is what I do for a living.)

But, many consumers don’t comparison shop for investing advice. They pick the person they already know who does it, or a golfing buddy. Some people ask for referrals from friends, family or coworkers, but then don’t find out who else is out there or what they have to offer. How do you know what you’re getting is any good if you don’t know what else is being sold and at what price? The worst way to pick such advice is to wait for someone to come to you–you know, the shark with his fin showing.

What types of things do you need to find out from a potential adviser? Start with their track record: how are they doing with their own money?

Would you want to work with a plumber who can’t fix her own pipes, or a doctor that can’t successfully diagnose patients? Then, why would you want to work with an financial adviser who hasn’t succeeded financially themselves (or are on a clear path to doing so)?

It is shocking how few advisers follow their own advice. Most mutual fund managers don’t put but a small amount of their own cash into the fund they manage. Many sellers of insurance and annuities buy the minimum required so they can say they buy the product they sell. A good adviser puts most of their money into the product or service they sell. If they say it is good for you, why wouldn’t they be fully invested themselves?

Another thing to find out from an adviser is how they are paid. If they are paid a commission to sell a product, don’t expect much support after the sale. If they pass you off to someone else after the sale, you just bought a service from a rainmaker–good luck with that. The best situation is when their pay is aligned with your interests in some way. If you don’t understand how they are getting paid or they are evasive in answering your questions, be wary.

Another question to ask is how much a potential adviser charges? Be careful, because you may be comparing apples and oranges. A Porsche doesn’t sell at the same price as a Yugo, so don’t expect a good adviser to be lowest cost. Make sure you understand how much you would be paying relative to similar services. If the rate is above or below average, then assess whether it makes sense to pay more or less. Higher touch service is higher cost, so is higher performance service. Price is not a figure in a vacuum, it belongs in the context of the value you are getting.

Finding good financial advice is hard. There just aren’t that many people out there who are good with their money. Also, the investing advice business is structured to sell products and services, not specifically to help clients, so investors are understandably wary.

To get good advice, you need to shop around. Find out what services are available at what price. Talk to many people in the field to get to the point you understand what you are buying and the quality of the person you are buying from.

As they say, if you don’t know jewelry, know the jeweler. To get good investing advice, you don’t need to know investing, but you do need to know your investing adviser.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

Comparison shopping

Investment advice isn’t only about maximizing returns

Generating above average returns isn’t the only way investment advisers help clients.

As Vanguard has recently pointed out, investors on their own tend to make bad mistakes that destroy returns over time.

Investment advisers can help their clients make better decisions in key areas that dramatically impact long run returns:

  • keeping clients on an even keel emotionally by guiding them to be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful
  • guiding clients toward tax-efficient investing without making tax planning an all-consuming goal
  • keeping client investment costs low
  • guiding clients to rebalance their portfolios: selling what has gone up and buying what has gone down

According to Vanguard, such measures can improve an investor’s returns by as much as 3% a year.

I agree with Vanguard’s findings and believe it highlights what many investors may be missing: investment advisers help clients reach their goals not just through investment selection, but by providing prudent and effective advice that can significantly impact returns over time.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

Investment advice isn’t only about maximizing returns

Returns through the windshield, not the rear-view mirror

What kind of returns are you expecting over the next 5 to 10 years?

Most people look at history as a guide to answer such a question, but is that really the right approach?

The Wall Street Journal published a good article last week on just this issue.

Most investors expect 5-10% returns because that’s what they’ve seen in the past.  Those same investors thought 15-20% returns were possible in 2000.  Not so much.  They also thought housing prices would go up much faster than inflation back in 2006.  Wrong, there, too.

Why can history be a poor guide?  Think about throwing a ball into the air.  If you project the first part of its upward flight into the future, you’d think it would keep going up.  But, that doesn’t factor in good ole gravity.

The same is true with investing.  You can look at the past, but you have to factor in where things started, where they ended, and what forces may cause projected trends to change.

By looking at such underlying factors, I think you can expect 1% to 7% returns over the next 5 years, 4% to 8% returns over the next 10 years, and 6% to 8.5% returns over the next 20 years.

Keep in mind, those numbers include inflation, so you have to subtract around 2.5% from each figure to get the real return (what your dollars can actually buy in the future).  And, yes, that means we could experience negative real returns over the next 5 years.

Those numbers aren’t terrible, but they aren’t what most people are expecting (especially after a year when the S&P 500 was up over 32%!).

If you need to drive from Colorado Springs to Denver and need to arrive at 4 pm, you can’t get there by leaving at 3:30 pm and driving 120 miles per hour.  Assuming the wrong rate prevents you from reaching your destination on time.

The same is true with investing.  Assuming the wrong rate of investment growth will cause you to save too little, and not have enough to retire when you want.

To plan a safe retirement journey, plan accordingly.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

Returns through the windshield, not the rear-view mirror

I wrote a couple weeks ago about the right stock/bond mix before and during retirement.  

Another good article appeared in the WSJ this past week that is also worth reading on the same subject.

The concept of reducing your stock exposure slowly as you age is being questioned.  Perhaps it’s better to have a lot less stock just before and early into retirement, but then increase the stock portion as retirement goes on.

I think this is a much more intelligent way to think about retirement planning and should be reiterated.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

How much will you spend in retirement?

The Wall Street Journal just published a good article about retirement income.

I tend to be conservative in my planning, so I assume 100% pre-retirement spending, and spending 3.33% of savings per year, but the article highlights the more conventional view of 75% to 85% pre-retirement income and 5% per year spending.

The choice is really up to each individual, but I prefer a bigger rather than a smaller margin of safety.

If you were told you had a 1 in 20 of getting into a major car accident today that would cause debilitating injuries, you probably would elect not to drive.  But, when people are told they have a 5% chance of running out of money in retirement, they don’t seem to grasp that 1 in 20 and 5% are the same odds.

Depending on the kindness of strangers–or worse, family members!–in your 80’s or 90’s sounds about as enticing as a debilitating car accident, to me.

The issue isn’t so much what numbers you plan for retirement spending and saving, but that you think about it.  The article referred to above gives a great set of ideas to consider in your retirement planning.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

How much will you spend in retirement?